The state of the JFK ARC: The Bradford critique

[First posted on December 29, 2018, at rgr-cyt.org.]

This post will discuss the second of two recent reports on the status of the JFK Assassination Records Collection (ARC). My post on the first report is here.

The report covered in this post, dated June 18, 2018, is by Rex Bradford, president of the Mary Ferrell Foundation. It can be found here.

The Mary Ferrell Foundation provides on-line access to a large percentage of the ARC records, as well as other important historical government records from the 1960s and 1970s. In terms of ARC documents, and the access it provides to them, it is of very high quality indeed.

Bradford is of course strongly conspiracy oriented, as are all of the MFF directors, but he is also well-qualified to provide an overview of the problems and work remaining for the ARC, so I had high expectations of his review of the current status of the ARC.

Unfortunately, his critique was a disappointment overall. I agree with Bradford on a number of points, but this post will focus on what I feel is his most problematic claim: that the ARC still contains records “withheld in full.”

Summary of Bradford

Bradford first offers a brief overview of the 2017-2018 releases, then summarizes what he sees as problems in these releases under four headings:

1) excessive and undocumented redactions;
2) errors, anomalies, and mysteries in online data;
3) missing withheld in full files
4) lack of accountability for the releases and the full collection

He closes with several recommendations, which mostly echo an open letter that the MF Board of Directors sent to National Archivist David Ferrigno in March 2018.1

Bradford’s doubts on NARA’s accounting

A number of my posts on the ARC documents have been responses to various claims that there are still large numbers of records withheld in full at NARA. All such claims that I have checked have been based on misunderstandings or error.

Yet Bradford too believes there are still entire documents in the ARC which are eligible for release under the ARCA, but which NARA has not yet released. Bradford does not make the mistake of claiming “thousands” of ARC records still withheld in full; in the end he claims only 13. Even this claim, however, is in error.

The basis for Bradford’s claim

What is the basis for Bradford’s claim that there are still releasable records withheld in full at NARA? It comes from one FOIA document and Bradford’s reading of a NARA webpage. The FOIA document is a list of records that still had redactions as of January 2018. I now call this important document NF18 (see here for a description of where it came from and what is in it). The webpage Bradford cites is NARA’s JFK Assassination Records Processing Project. This is also an important source for the final ARC releases.

NF18 has been misunderstood by several writers. It is basically a list of ARC document numbers and their current status: redacted or withheld. The list is NARA’s accounting of all the ARC documents with redactions as of January 2018.2 Bradford has clearly understood this, and matches NF18 against the information on the Records Processing Project page to check whether everything on NF18 that should be released has been released.

This is an appropriate method, and I tried to do the same thing in a post on 2018 May 5 (here). My results, however, were different from Bradford’s results, so a closer look is in order.

At the time of NF18, there were 798 ARC records withheld in full. It is important to remember, however, that the law creating the ARC, the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act (ARCA), did NOT mandate that all records in the Collection would be made public. Sections 10 and 11 of the Act specifically exempted three types of records from public release: 1) sealed court documents and federal grand jury information; 2) deeded gifts to the federal government, 3) “records held under section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code.”3

According to NARA’s webpage on “The JFK assassination records processing project,” there are 520 records which are withheld in full are withheld under Sections 10 and 11, and will therefore not be released.

But how do these 520 files fit into the 798 records withheld files listed in NF18? This is where some of Bradford’s doubts arise.

There are two other issues that come up as well. In addition to the section 10 and 11 records, there were 10 audio tapes in the Gerald Ford Presidential Library that were “not recoverable.” There were also 79 Record Information Forms (RIFs) that could not be matched to records in the collection. All 89 of these records are therefore also unavailable online or in NARA’s archives, adding to Bradford’s doubts.

A final set of 180 documents is also listed in NF18. This document set is a microfilm copy of the CIA’s 201 file for Lee Harvey Oswald.4 The microfilm 201 file turned out to be a 100% duplicate of the original file, released all the way back in 1992. The “Project page” thus states that the microfiled files “were not processed for release or posted.”5

Bradford’s list

Based on all these items, Bradford begins by trying to specify which files are exempt from release under Sections 10 and 11 of the ARCA. This attempt is marred by what appear to be count errors and a math error.6 In addition, he has overlooked sealed court documents and federal grand jury information, of which NARA’s JFK Project page says there are 5.

He then lists 19 files which he says have not been released but which he suggests may actually be releasable. Six of these are FBI files which Bradford concedes “may be tax records,” so that in his list it is only 13 files which are “at issue.” Here are the files Bradford lists:

# RIF # Agency RIF data Restrictions
1 104-10291-10021 CIA [RESTRICTED], 63 pages, NBR 1B
2 104-10291-10022 CIA [RESTRICTED], 270 pages, NBR 1B
3 124-10286-10391 FBI [No Title], From DIRECTOR, FBI to SAC, SG (7/15/1953) SECTION 10(a)1
4 124-90026-10181 FBI [No Title], Subjects: HARRY HALL SECTION 10(a)1
5 124-90026-10182 FBI [No Title], Subjects: HARRY HALL SECTION 10(a)1
6 124-90091-10143 FBI [No Title], From: US COURTS (AFFIDAVIT) SECTION 10(a)1
7 124-90097-10251 FBI [No Title], 198 pages, Subjects: CHARLES TOURINE SECTION 10(a)1
8 124-10129-10309 FBI [No Title]. Subjects: DEMOH, INCOME TAX RETURNS SECTION 11(a)
9 124-10130-10083 FBI [No Title], From: PAINE, MICHAEL RALPH, SECTION 11(a)
10 124-10130-10136 FBI [No Title], From: PAINE, MICHAEL RALPH, SECTION 11(a)
11 124-10130-10137 FBI [No Title], From: PAINE, MICHAEL RALPH, SECTION 11(a)
12 124-10130-10138 FBI [No Title], From: PAINE, MICHAEL RALPH, SECTION 11(a)
13 124-10158-10060 FBI [No Title], From: IRS, Subjects: LHP, PRE-RP, REL, INCOME TAX SECTION 11(a)
14 124-10175-10480 FBI [No Title], From: FAIN, JOHN W., 379 pages, Subjects: MCO, LHO, FOIA REQUEST,
Classification: TOP SECRET
NOT ASSASSINATION RELATED
15 180-10116-10076 HSCA [No Title], 26 pages, Subjects: KING, MARTIN LUTHER, JR.
16 180-10120-10010 HSCA [No Title]. From: HSCA, To: BELL, GRIFFIN, Subjects: BELL, GRIFFIN, SUBPOENA REFERRED
17 180-10131-10326 HSCA [No Title], Record Series: SECURITY CLASSIFIED TESTIMONY,
From: PHILLIPS, DAVID ATLEE, Date: 5/11/1978
REFERRED
18 180-10142-10055 HSCA [No Title], Classified typewriter ribbon cartridge (presumably accompanies 180-10142-10194?) REFERRED
19 202-10002-10134 JCS [No Title]. Subjects: INFORMATION FURNISHED THROUGH DIPLOMATIC CHANNELS;
SITUATION IN CUBA; CHE GUEVERA’S ARTICLE ON GUERRILLA WARFARE
REFERRED

Problems with the list

The first problem with this list is that although Bradford claims none of these documents have been released, in fact five of the documents already have been, as the links I have added show. Note that 180-10131-10326, a document Bradford was particularly concerned about, is one of these.

The second problem with this list is that Bradford apparently worked directly from NF18, and did not go back and check the RIF sheets for these documents. NF18 only gives a few data fields from the RIF sheets for these documents. It omits, among other things, the restrictions field for these records. I have added this back in because it shows the basis for restricting access to these records.

Using this, we can see that there are five records on Bradford’s list withheld on Section 10 grounds. Section 10 refers to legal documents under seal of court [10(a)1], or grand jury information [10(a)2]. Another 6 records are withheld on Section 11 grounds. Section 11 refers to “records held under section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code.” Two of the CIA records which were released in April 2018 have information withheld on 1B grounds. This is the ARCA exemption for “intelligence sources or methods.” Several records are also listed as “referred.” This means that agencies which provided information in the record have been asked to clear release of the record. Several of these have indeed been released.

The RIF “restrictions” field does not resolve all questions, but it certainly answers some of Bradford’s doubts: the six FBI documents that Bradford says “appear to be IRS documents” are withheld under section 11; there is no ambiguity here. Five of the documents he lists as questionable are withheld on Section 10 grounds. This is consistent with NARA’s Project webpage, which says five documents were withheld under Section 10.

It is a pity that Bradford did not check the full RIFs for these documents before compiling his list. It is strange that he lists documents as unreleased that are in fact released.

Conclusions

The 798 withheld records listed in NF18 and the 520 records withheld under Sections 10 and 11 are largely resolvable. Here are the numbers I have:

# Prefix Agency type count Restrictions
1 104 CIA dupl. Oswald 201 180
2 misc misc unresolved RIFs 79
3 178 GFL tapes 10
4 137 IRS Tax docs 178 Sec 11
5 179 WC Tax docs 314 REFERRED
6 124 FBI Tax docs 6 Sec 11
7 124 FBI Court docs 5 Sec 10
8 176 JFKL DOG docs 7 3
9 179 LBJL DOG docs 5 REFERRED
10 MISC MISC 11/17 docs 3 [open]
11 MISC MISC 4/26 docs 5 [open]
12 MISC MISC unreleased docs 4 [WITHHELD]
2 180 HSCA typewriter ribbon/cartridge 4 ?

This is all 798 withheld records on NF18. Of these records, I can only identify 515 as Section 10 or 11 documents. There are four documents remaining which have not been released, but I have no idea why. Even if the four unreleased documents are all Section 11 records (very unlikely), we are still one document short of 520. Perhaps one unreleased Section 10 or 11 record has indeed been omitted from NF18. (I will have more to say about this in the near future.) Or perhaps 520 is a miscount. Everyone makes this kind of mistake; a look at my past posts will show lots of places where I have had to go back and correct my numbers.

Following the trail down to the very end, I am also uncertain of the status of the typewriter ribbons. Bradford seems to think that these two records represent two pieces of one object, but I think they are separate: the cartridge is not just a box, it has more ribbon inside it that was used to type classified documents. I have no idea why these two ribbons were kept. It seems unlikely that two only ribbons were required to type all the classified documents that passed through the HSCA, but these are the only two listed in the ARC.

Overall, this is almost the same accounting I gave in my May 5th post, as the excel sheet posted there shows. I have changed my mind on one item: the document 124-10286-10391. I originally thought this was NOT a withheld document because Mary Ferrell has a document with this record number. That left me with only four Section 10 records.

In fact the 124-10286-10391 document on Mary Ferrell is an error; the RIF sheet for the withheld 124-10286-10391 document has been erroneously attached to another document on a similar subject.

How did this happen? Federal agencies were required to produce record information forms (RIFs) for all their assassination related records, and during this process, it happened more than once that the wrong RIF was attached to the wrong document. This happened to several of the FBI documents in the record group that 124-10286-10391 belongs to. This group is a set of FBI files relating to William Waldman, a vice president of Klein’s Sporting Goods. Klein’s was the company which sold Lee Harvey Oswald the rifle he used to shoot President Kennedy.

I am now sure that the Mary Ferrell 124-10286-10391 RIF sheet is mis-attached because the RIF sheet indicates the document date is 1953, while the Mary Ferrell document attached to this RIF sheet is from 1965.

Summing up, the document count NARA gives is off by only one file. Although the remaining four unreleased files may have other issues, I conclude that Bradford’s claim of over a dozen missing withheld in full files is simply wrong.

  1. https://www.maryferrell.org/pages/Featured_Letter_to_Archivist_March2018.html
  2. From what we know in December 2018, NF18 is not one hundred percent correct or complete, but it was NARA’s best effort in January 2018.
  3. This summary comes from the recent report on the ARC by NARA’s Inspector-General James Springs. There is a copy of the text of the ARCA on the NARA website here.
  4. See here for a post on this subject.
  5. In fact, a file numbered 104-10196-10018 from this set was posted at NARA, but the file consists only of 312 pages all saying “Image temporarily not available.”
  6. For instance, Bradford counts 182 IRS documents in NF18’s withheld files instead of 178, lumps the LBJ library letters to and from Jacqueline Kennedy (probably Deed of Gift material) together with withheld Warren Commission tax documents, and mis-adds file totals (182+321+7 = 510, not 465). For my own accounting of the withheld documents in NF18, see this spreadsheet.

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